Skip to comments.Can the FAA Be Trusted to Fix Air Traffic Control?
Posted on 05/17/2011 6:05:45 PM PDT by Kaslin
Five years ago, a Comair flight taxied onto the wrong runway at the airport in Lexington, Ky., and crashed on takeoff, killing 49 of the 50 people aboard. It turned out that the lone air controller on duty who should have caught the mistake was operating on two hours of sleep. Two years before that, a tired controller nearly let two commercial jets collide on an LAX runway.
Now, in the wake of a raft of air traffic controllers caught sleeping on the job, the Federal Aviation Administration issued new rules to combat fatigue. But this problem has dogged the FAA for years.
Fatigue is just one piece of a long history of FAA management problems with the air traffic control (ATC) system, according to an IBD review of government reports and audits and various news accounts. Just last week, the Transportation Department's inspector general announced two audits focusing on air traffic controller mistakes.
To some, this record calls into question whether the FAA can be trusted to fix the problems plaguing the ATC.
Reason Foundation transportation expert Robert Poole, for example, argues that the FAA's problems stem from its dual role as operator and regulator of air traffic control, which he says "creates a potential conflict of interest."
FAA head Randy Babbitt said recently that "employees at the FAA work diligently every day to run the safest air transportation system in the world." And an FAA spokesman told IBD that while the Air Traffic Organization is part of the FAA, "it's regulated by another group that is independent of the ATO's chain of command."
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It’s better than all the rest but its decline can be traced to the time it was placed under the DOT.
About as much as you want to trust the Department of Education to teach your kids sufficiently to compete in the world.
About as well as government agencies setup traffic lights.
How did air traffic control decline when it was placed under the DOT?
Q: Can the FAA Be Trusted to Fix Air Traffic Control?
You can’t trust the government to “fix” anything.
Can the FAA Be Trusted to Fix Air Traffic Control?
Can the Obama-butt be trusted to provide an real birth certificate?
Is Nancy Pelosi really a female?
Did Jimmy Carter ever have a brain?
Did Bill Clinton “never have sex with that woman?
The only thing I can trust the federal government to fix, is to fix it so that they are more in control.
What would you do instead? Have a Czar work with a blue ribbon congressional committee that reports directly to the WH?
Yep. The politicians wanted to spend the money the FAA controlled but couldn't until they put it under DOT.
Since then it has been all downhill and politics rules over safety and innovation.
If it was up to me, it would be turned over to the Department of Defense (DoD).
Privatization of ATC might work if you got the government to take the insurance liability.
Excellent expertise post
No! The FAA is being run by non-pilots and non-aviation morons.
This man speaks the truth. USAF controllers were the best.
(Admitted prejudice from a USAF instructor and test guy)
This man speaks the truth. USAF controllers were the best.
(Admitted prejudice from a USAF instructor and test guy)
I wouldn’t even let them be school crossing guards. Fools would probably fall asleep after a hard weekend and all the school kids would get run over by a run away garbage truck.
PATCO screwed it up, then FAA caught a break and had a great opportunity to fix it, but....
Pressure to rebuild quickly, exacerbated by intense EEO mandates brought about another union that management essentially turned the day-to-day operation over to.
The genie is out of the bottle, the cadre of experienced personnel that is essential to ANY operation is gone now, replaced by scared kids who duck traffic and only stay on because of massive pay and ironclad union protection.
If you fly at all, thank your lucky stars for technology like TCAS...don't fly without it.
I knew one FAA controller that worked 40 plus hours in his second job, every week, stocking groceries.
You know he was tired when he got to work on his mids, and on his swings.
Oh lordy, that is truly laughable.
In the modern FAA ex USAF controllers are able to handle the upgrade to FAA Enroute; but only because of lower requirements and FAA's 'no-fail' policy.
Prior to that, they were normally inferior to new hires off the street.
My 35 years were all Enroute, starting with 13 years at Chicago Center, the busiest facility in the world, with NO computers, limited radar coverage, hand-written strips, following targets by pushing plastic chips across the screen, relying greatly on time/speed/distance calculations in your head.
The initial CAA cadre did have a lot of AF guys, only because the job was basically unknown to most. Once it got some ink, the AF numbers dropped radically.
Perhaps the AF guys do better in TRACON/Tower crossovers, but it just wasn't so in ARTCC upgrades.
After the USAF came to the rescue for Reagan, the hatred the FAA management and controllers have for the USAF, well you can cut it with a knife.
The FAA likes Navy controllers as hire-ees, but they despise Air Force Controllers.
What’s your gripe with traffic lights? I hate to stop at them as much as anyone, but here in the Chicago suburbs, I find it hard to fault their design and operation, which I assume is under the control of state and local government.
Second job? None of FAA's business how one spends his off time. For 25 years I owned an aviation market research business, it had no effect on my FAA work, except to make me more knowledgeable about aircraft.
The young kids today do seem to burn both ends of the candle, but that is a personal choice guided by their entitlement mentality and buttressed by the union. The pay is great, but damn, the quality of the people has just plummeted. I would never urge a kid I thought highly of to take this job in today's FAA.
As a retired Air Traffic Controller I tend to agree with your thinking. I left before the strike. I was an Air Force Pilot prior to going with ATC. It will be quite difficult to devise a good system even if allowed to. I am glad that is not my job..
What in the world are you talking about?
>> rotation is hardest on the body, but a favorite ... due to the time off.
>> Did he truly have an undisturbed eight hours of rest before his Air Traffic Control Shift?
As a senior airline captain, when I taught CRM (Crew Resource Management) courses to the flight attendants at our airline some years ago, I informally surveyed the group re. adequate rest before duty. It was not uncommon for many of them to report for a 15-16 hour duty day (Pacific flight) having had 3-5 hours sleep the night before.
Sounds like a “personal responsibility” issue here. Controllers are an extremely high IQ group. Unlike airline pilots, most have nothing more than a high school diploma. They have damn good pay, no layoffs, and a great retirement for the amount of “picking sh*t with the chickens” they had to do to get there. Quit screwing around and get some sleep before your shift. Come to work prepared.
ZAB = Albuquerque Air Route Traffic Control Center
ZME = Memphis Air Route Traffic Control Center
In summer 1981 PATCO, the union of federal air traffic controllers went on strike, violating a federal law prohibiting government unions from striking. Declaring the situation an emergency as described in the 1947 Taft Hartley Act, Reagan stated that if the air traffic controllers "do not report for work within 48 hours, they have forfeited their jobs and will be terminated." They did not return and on August 5, Reagan fired 11,345 striking air traffic controllers who had ignored his order, and used supervisors and military controllers to handle the nation's commercial air traffic until new controllers could be hired and trained.As one historian concluded, "The firing of PATCO employees not only demonstrated a clear resolve by the president to take control of the bureaucracy, but it also sent a clear message to the private sector that unions no longer needed to be feared."
"Quit screwing around and get some sleep before your shift.
Come to work prepared.""
I couldn't agree, more.
Here in Atlanta they manufacture congestion out of smoothly moving traffic. They are either too long or too short. One would suppose nobody ever comes back to check on the affect those lights have on traffic. Atlanta has few roads that run either parallel or perpendicular to each other. It is a paved spider web that offers few alternative routes between any two points.
I'm sure that you, as a grizzled veteran FAA controller wannabe, are aware of certification requirements for FAA controller positions.
I can GUARANTEE you that NO AF controllers worked any traffic positions at any ARTCC in the country during the strike period. I was a 13 year veteran at Chicago ARTCC when the strike occured. Counting the guys who beat the deadline, plus supes and staff who could work traffic, we had 62 controllers to handle the busiest air traffic facility in the world.....we fired 465....WITHOUT a single AF controller.
If we got 'bailed out' by anybody, it was by furloughed airline pilots. The strike came during a recession, and there were buttloads of pilots laid off. FAA offered them temporary jobs as flight data aides in the centers. Eventually there were about 100 controllers from other centers sent to Chicago on temporary duty.
Reagan's dictat to FAA was to run enough traffic to not harm the economy (or he would Federalize). The bottleneck for the country was Chicago Center....we were the busiest and got hit the hardest...we were the key to keeping the system going.
So, WHO bailed Reagan out during the strike? Nobody...he needed no bailout, he had taken a decision and was comfortable with it.
But, in your context, who bailed the Air Traffic system out? Not AF controllers working in towers....it was 62 very tired FAA controllers and some laid-off airline pilots.
There were many other locations that our controllers were disbursed to, but I can't remember them, now.
After a year and three-quarters, we only got two of the controllers back, and one of those two caught an assignment to a remote overseas location (he had just reenlisted a week before the strike).
As our disbursed controllers ended their contract with the AF, we were tasked to send replacement controllers to those sites, even after our controller that timed out of the AF stayed at that FAA location, and didn't miss a day of work.
The controller just tripled his salary with the FAA pay.
Yes, the USAF rescued Ronald Reagan by keeping the airways safe and expeditious, when the FAA Union turned it's back on the United States.
One, the system would perform well enough not to hurt the economy, or
Two, if needed, he was prepared to Federalize ATC. No fuss, no muss.
The facilities you mention were not a big worry for the FAA...it was Chicago, PATCO knew it, and exerted immense pressure on their members to go out and stay out, and they did a damned good job of that. Out of 479 members at ZAU, only 14 did not walk out, or made it back before the deadline. I was one of 8 non-members, naturally we all stayed.
The architect of FAA contingency plans was Bob Thorne - he and Helms spent a LOT of time at the center, briefing us and asking what we needed. We learned a LOT of stuff that was never given to the press, including the Federalizing option.
Many of the approach controls we worked with expanded greatly to take some pressure off us. This included altitude expansion, as well as lateral so as to butt up with other approaches, allowing what was called 'tower enroute', where aircraft could fly fairly long distances without needing to contact the center. This was all done to allow the center to concentrate more on the higher traffic, which is where the most commercial traffic was.
On Monday, we ran 3,000, Tuesday 3,300, Wednesday 3,600 (normal avg was about 7,000), and management would not let us go any higher, as they were concerned about us burning out over time - probably a good call, but it pissed us off.
Helms and Thorne made it very clear to us that due to that extremely high percentage we lost that we were THE facility that MUST hold up. They said that due to the recession and much lower percentages of strikers elsewhere that other facilities were not of concern as to keeping the system running.
We got TDY controllers from JAX, FTW, MEM, STL, MIA and ABQ centers. Boston and NY got a few, but nowhere what we did.
Again, NO AF at Chicago...it was tough enough training experienced enroute controllers from other facilities to get them checked out on two or three positions to make them usefull, ain't no way we could take the time to train a tower type from the ground up.
In conclusion....bailed out Reagan???...my ass.
I respect your view from a management (non-union) position.
I appreciate the hard working controllers, and trainees that stayed with the FAA.
BUT, the USAF kept the system from collapsing.
Where did "flow control" come from? The USAF controllers implemented it.
And let's not forget the trainees that picked up the ball.
Some didn't get it. Some trainees didn't see the problem.
But those that did show some spark, got the little training they needed to complete the position.
Then they got chained to that position, until we could get back to them.
I heard how the FAA worked from some of my friend that were TDY, and at that time, they didn't have time to continue their pompous over-bloated egos.
One of our TDY members arrived at a TRACON with only the facility chief and one trainee left to man that facility.
The facility chief pointed him to the D-Brite and ask him if he had worked radar from the tower before.
He advised him of his experience doing just that at Osan AB Korea, for over two hours, when a cable was cut taking out the Rapcon.
The facility chief ask him if he could handle the local and arrival positions combined in the tower.
He said he could, and he did.
Their trainee was handling ground and flight data, with very little supervision. The facility chief took the other two USAF TDY people and went down stairs to reopen the radar facility.
Other friends told similar stories of how the rating process was no more than a few minutes, and was told to read the Ops Letters and Letters of Agreement when time allowed.
Yes, the USAF rescued Reagan.
Without the USAF controllers, the system would have collapsed.